Monday, March 26, 2007

"Almost Spring Break" Trip

Last week Wednesday was a holiday. It is a shame that they couldn't put off that holiday until Monday so that Friday was my last day of work and I got an extra weekend of Spring Break. However, the holiday was the first day of Spring, and even though temperatures returned to a winterish state, the first day of Spring is always March 21 (except when there is a calendar malfunction, which does happen). Anyway, no work Wednesday meant that Tuesday became Friday. Yuri, Jeff and I went to a place in Takasaki called "High Times" and played darts and billiards. Jeff, as it turns out, is a dangerous man when you give him darts. His aim is splendid.
But he doesn't look cool while doing it, like I do. Observe the Mona Lisa picture in the background. Hence the name of the restaurant.
Here is billiards. I lost, but not before putting Yuri out of the game. Hee.
Maybe because I defeated her, she decided to put on the replica suit of armor in the bathroom hallway and stab Jeff.
Here is another interesting thing about the restaurant. This is the desert I got. Bread with sugar. I though it was french toast and was all excited. No luck. Plain white bread with sugar.
The next day Yuri took me to the local Hawaiian food restaurant. I was squealing in excitement.
I ordered the Kalua Pig. Well, it was good, but I have never had Kalua pig cooked in Soy Sauce before. I don't know it it really counts as Kalua Pig.
Next we picked up Yuri's friends Kentaro and Jack and began to drive up Haruna. On the way we stopped at Chikyu-ya and saw the worlds biggest silk doll mobile.
This is Jack.
Here we are at the entrance of Haruna Shrine.
Jack and a likeness of him.
This is how cold it was up on Haruna, still.
Even the waterfalls were frozen!
The main shrine.
The gigantic rock above the main shrine that looks as though it could fall at any time.
The intricate carving beneath the shrine.
And the Buddha, who also is a celebrity chef. Haruna Shrine was amazing and is now one of my favorite shrines.
Here is the sunset on Lake Haruna.
And all the bread I bought for our very cold picnic.
Here is the group.
And Totoro bread.
Afterwards we went to dinner in Keyaki Walk, saw a movie filmed in Maebashi and went to the batting center. Here is Yuri slugging away.
Friday was graduation at one of my schools.
Very long ceremony, but not hot like in Hawaii. Here is one of the classes lined up for a picture.
And the bento that came afterwards. This was the best boxed lunch I have ever had.
So, then on Saturday Yuri and I went down to Tokyo to meet one of her friends who was coming from Korea. In Ikebukuro we stopped at the Disaster Preparedness Museum. Here is the sign we discovered in the bathroom. The fact that there is a sign means that there has been a problem in the past.
Here is the museum. We got to do the earthquake simulator, but we didn't do much else because we ran out of time and it seemed like they didn't really want us there.
Here is Meiji Jingu, where we met her friend Shin.
And these are the Korean girls that we met at Harajuku station and tried to give a tour to.
This is the flea market we helped them find.
Ahh, yess. Nice doll, huh. We saw it in the Tobacco and Salt Museum. That's right, the Tobacco and Salt Museum.
What is the relation between salt and tobacco? Who funded this museum? It is in one of the more expensive parts of Tokyo and only charges 100 yen for admission! Somebody is laundering money or trying to get a tax write-off or something. Here is the smoking section of the Tobacco and Salt Museum.
Once we found Shin, we went to Akihabara and went to a Maid Cafe. A maid cafe, by the way, is a restaurant where Japanese style nerds and geeks, called otaku, frequent. The waitresses are all young, attractive women wearing Maid costumes. Their job is to serve you food, and also to make you feel good by talking to you and laughing at your jokes. You can play Uno or Go Fish with them if you pay another 300 yen. Pictures are strictly prohibited. It is basically the PG rated version of the PG-13 rated Hostess bar. My impression? The girls were cute (but just cute, none of them were my type) and the food was bad.
We then ate some sushi, cruised though Yodobashi Camera Akiba, and went to the R/X rated part of Japan: Kabuki-cho. Kabuki-cho, along with Roppongi crossing is one of the seedy places in Tokyo where you really should be careful. We really wanted to see what it was like though, so we went and walked around.
Kabuki-cho was definately not my thing, but I am glad I got to see it. Especially this. Observe the picture of Prime Minister Abe, who has embarked on a new nationalistic campaign to inspire patriotism in the Japanese people. This poster states that Japan is a nation that wants to create. I don't think he expected this kind of irony.
Alright, sorry for the grammar mistakes and spelling mistakes, but I'm in kind of a rush. I'm off to Kyoto to meet Mom and Dad!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Buds, Bees and Bands

Japan has started to seem very normal to me. I look at my life here and I say "Yup." Things seem fairly normal. This is good for me, because it means I am fairly well adjusted, but bad for you, my readers, because it means that some of the things I do seem normal to me even though they would be very interesting to you. For this, I appologize.

Well, lets get started. Last weekend I went to a plum forest to see the plum blossoms bloom.
And sure enough, they were beautiful. Although, on one side of the plum forest was a grove of bamboo. I really liked the bamboo. The plumbs were alright. I guess it's just that an entire forest of plums makes plums a little bit boring. Still, fun, and a must do at the end of winter in Japan.
Here is a hardy old tree at a shrine that I went to afterwards. Planted about 1000 years ago.
A neat little modern rock garden in Fujioka.
And the first silk factory in Japan. Quite famous in Gunma and about to become a World Heritage site. It was kind of neat. The tour guide was in a little bit of the rush, but the grounds were big and it was kind of fun to see brick work in Japan.
The cool part was the silk cocoons.
Afterwards, Yuri and I went to Takasaki station, bought edible bees and ate them. Edible bees are not bad, but there was nothing amazing about them.
The next day we went to Maebashi's new mall. There didn't seem to be any interesting stores, and it was packed with people. Give it a couple of months to cool down and I'll go back and check it out again.
Then we went to Brigg's (the ALT that teaches in the school next to mine) concert. He has been starting a band and this was the first show. This is the singer from the band before his. Their music was just screaming, and this blond guy was crazy or drunk, so in sum, it was quite odd.
Here is Brigg's band. On Friday his lead guitar player and singer broke his collar bone and ended up in the hospital. Brigg decided to go on anyway. He did a really good job making up for the lost member.
And after the concert Yuri and I went to Keyaki Walk again and ate at a shop where the gimmick was "all you can eat bread". Maybe this doesn't sound that exciting to someone in the United States, where you bread will be refilled as many times as you want (within reason), but in Japan, this is an exciting night out. I tried all the bread. The best was the Sunflower Bread.
Coming soon: Mom and Dad visit Kyoto!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Winter gave up, not me

My dear readers,

Yes, I am back after a two week absence. Trust me, I did not give up on the blog, it's just there has been nothing to report for two weeks. I went to Tokyo last weekend, but it was mostly because I had to. I have discovered that I don't really like Tokyo and I really only go if I want books or to see friends. Gunma is much more my pace than Tokyo.

Speaking of Gunma! Winter had it's final counter attack this last week, but seems to have finally slunk away in defeat. The Ume flowers are blooming and spring is, effectively, here. I have begun training again and have decided to enter another marathon (which, as I have stated before means "long race" in Japan). This time, in costume. It felt great to run again. So good that I ran to Gunma Soja, a full 11 kilometers away.
On the way, I also saw this. A chicken farm covered with lye to prevent bird flu. Nice.
I have also turned into a raging enviromentalist. Something in me snapped and I turned into a tree hugger. I have gone back to being a social meat-eater, but private vegetarian, and have started using my garbage to grow my own vegetables on my air conditioner (which I will not be using).
Fluffy by the way is doing well. Look and Fluffy's beautiful mushrooms!
But yes. I have big plans on the horizon, so please keep checking!